Earlier this year, I started to read the Boku wa Tomodachi ga Sukunai manga.
I became an instant fan.
I really enjoyed the manga because of how it showed the difficulties of making friends when inexperience and considerably flawed personalities are thrown into the mix. It’s a decidedly otaku-oriented series that hits kind of close to home in a pleasant way. So when I heard that it was getting an anime adaptation I was pretty thrilled about it. I had my fingers crossed that it would be the anime of Fall 2011. Now, a few episodes into the TV series, I find it safe to say that I am fairly disappointed with the anime adaptation of Boku wa Tomodachi ga Sukunai.
On a basic level, the anime and manga are not that different from each other. They have the same premise, a group of people who are very bad at making friends trying to help each other to humorous effect. They have the same characters with the same personalities. They both have fanservice and their fair share of otaku references. But where I find the manga to pass with high marks using this mix of ingredients, the anime by comparison falls short of the manga’s success.
I think the best place for me to begin is the art, because the character designs for the manga and anime are drawn in markedly different styles. Whereas the anime has more of what I’d call a typical light novel/visual novel-esque style to it, the manga’s artwork seems more loose and fun. The manga doesn’t feel the need to stick to its template too closely, and perhaps because it doesn’t have to devote frames of animation to consistency, it makes the comic feel comparatively more energetic. Putting aside more abstract aspects of manga such as page and panel layout, decompression, etc. (things which I think the manga does quite well and do contribute to the quality of the series), even the smiles from the characters in the manga show a lot more emotion behind them. I feel like I can understand the inner workings of the characters and I’m pleased by that. The anime on the other hand, while its designs aren’t abysmal or anything, don’t seem capable of as much expressiveness, and in general the show feels a little stiff and wooden by comparison. I understand that the anime’s designs are closer to the original light novel’s but I still like them less. On that note, I have not read the light novels, so I cannot say if either is a faithful enough adaptation to the original, but the problem isn’t faithfulness so much as it is the particulars of execution.
Another major factor is the fanservice. By that, I don’t mean that the manga is devoid of fanservice which makes it somehow automatically better. In both cases, the girls are still cute, Sena’s chest is equally impressive, and they all have a tendency to wear attractive outfits. There’s nothing particularly objectionable about this. However, the anime has significantly more fanservice, to the point that I find myself saying, “The girls are already cute enough! You don’t have to do anything more with them!” The fujoshi character Rika has scenes showing her fantasizing in both versions, but the anime’s depictions tend more towards a climax in an eroge while the manga emphasizes the extent to which it leaves her flustered. The show also has a tendency to repeatedly linger on the female characters below the belt to a degree which exceeds the yuri mahjong anime Saki. The opening video itself seems particularly dedicated to showing off the girls’ bodies and ignoring the friend-making aspect of the show, and I find myself wishing it had been done differently, perhaps something akin to the Toradora! OP. To put it simply, there’s a difference between the girls wearing a sexy bikini that shows off her figure and a shot that draws specific attention to the underboob.
Now, I understand that the series has something of a harem vibe to it. It’s an unavoidable aspect of it, for better or worse, and it’s not like I have anything against a harem series which is designed to show off its girls. I once compared Infinite Stratos to Kore wa Zombie Desuka? and while I found the latter series better and more engaging overall I thought the girls of Infinite Stratos were more attractive with better designs. That approach is fine, if a little limited in its appeal. With that said, I find the key difference to be that, based on how the two adaptations approach the categories mentioned above, the expressiveness of the characters/aesthetics in general and the approach to showing off the attractiveness of the girls, the manga does a much better job of making me think of the female characters as people first and cute girls second. While I certainly don’t mind that the girls are nice to look at, what made me love the series in the first place was that it encourages a deeper understanding of the characters, particularly their awareness of their own personal flaws. With the manga, I feel that it gives a much stronger sense that these characters really do wish they could make friends in a way that outshines the fanservice, which I think gives it far greater ability to reach otaku and other readers with that bit of warmth. With the anime however, although that aspect is still there, I think it makes it more difficult to see past that simple harem exterior and into the meat of it (no pun intended for Sena fans).
I’m not going to accuse people who really like the show of having poor taste or think they’re simply unenlightened fools. I much prefer the manga and its style, but people may choose the anime’s designs over them for whatever reason. The girls are cute and it’s okay to think that they’re cute, to be attracted to them or even obsessed with them. Perhaps most importantly, while I find the level of fanservice in the manga to be more or less acceptable, I know there are people out there who would find that the cheesecake ruins the character portrayals in the manga. Even so, I just can’t shake the feeling that the anime’s approach to Boku wa Tomodachi ga Sukunai obscures its greatest strengths too much.